Global efforts to fight genocide and other atrocities must focus on prevention instead of intervening to stop the killings when they are already happening.
The call was made by experts at an international conference on genocide in Kigali, which was concluded on Sunday.
The three-day forum ended with a discussion on how the current international management of humanitarian crises should work in the future, given the documented failure of the international community to protect civilians so far.
Among the panellists at the discussion was Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo. She said policy makers around the world needed to constantly manage diversity in their communities in order to prevent atrocities.
“We need to spend more time preventing genocides and mass atrocities, rather than managing them when they happen,” she told participants.
She urged governments around the world to stop thinking that world diplomats, mostly from industrialised western countries, from their capitals can save the world from atrocities.
“We should be our own keepers by empowering local and regional bodies,” she said.
Analysts say that the United Nations failure to intervene and protect Rwandans during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the UN and the international community.
Following the Genocide in Rwanda that claimed more than a million people, world leaders vowed never to allow the death of civilians in any other country without doing anything to protect them.
But activists, in support of the principle to intervene dubbed “Responsibility to Protect”, say that pressure needs to be put on world leaders to ensure that they put their words into action.
“Our job is to make sure that they fulfill their promise so that their pretty words match with real deeds,” said Dr Simon Adams, Executive Director of the New York, US-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
The centre serves as a resource and a forum for governments, international institutions and non-governmental organisations working to protect civilians from mass atrocities.
Shortly after the discussions, Dr Adams said whether and how to protect victims of mass atrocities is a question that every citizen around the world should be asking themselves.
“It’s a question all human beings should ask themselves. No country is completely immune from the threat of mass atrocities. There might be low risk but there is no such a thing as no risk,”he said.
Dr Adams agrees that prevention should be at the heart of the responsibility to protect and advises that the best way to do it is to educate people about the history of atrocities that happened, tolerance, and the dangers of hate speech.
“If we get to the point where we are talking about reaction, whether it is peacekeeping operations or some kind of military interventions, we have already failed. It’s all about prevention now,” he said.
Bernard Kouchner, a former Foreign Affairs minister in France and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, a non-governmental organisation that delivers emergency medical aid to victims of armed conflicts, said the protection of humanity should not be left to individual nations.
“NGOs and civil society should play a leading role in preventing genocide without waiting for politicians’ intervention,” he said.
Kouchner encouraged people to stop hiding behind political establishments, and instead start to address conflicts with a sense of sincerity.
“We must act beyond politics and encourage personal responsibility so that genocide doesn’t happen again,” he said.
At the conference, participants highlighted that building global networks of parliamentarians, policymakers, and researchers among other actors can go a long way in preventing atrocities.